The dubious joy of misperceptions

By Andreas Persbo, December 17, 2012

Aristotle is sometimes credited with saying, "the law is reason, free from passion." If this is true, our Roundtable may not have been one of law. Some arguments seem to have been motivated by passion, and not by reason.

I understand one thing about Daniel Joyner's arguments: that he believes that both Christopher Ford and I should bend to his sense of logic. That I cannot do. His academic credentials do not make his line of reasoning any stronger, and his coherence leaves a lot to be desired. Indeed, Professor Joyner's arguments are full of misinterpretations, cherry-picking (an accusation he levels at others), or impenetrable obscurity. Worse, he seemingly attempts to get around salient points by throwing up bewildering arguments. The latest example is to accuse his fellow debaters of not analyzing the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) holistically against the entirety of the text. At this stage of the debate, this is nothing more than a rhetorical trick designed to seed confusion. The arguments brought forward by Ford and I are clear, and appear to be supported by two former IAEA deputy directors general and one former chair of the Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation.

If Daniel Joyner reflects on the CSA more carefully, he will see that it enables the agency to conduct "special inspections," which would give it exceptionally broad authority to go anywhere, see anything, and request access to whatever information it desires. Why would the agency need these powers if the agreement were limited to declared nuclear material? The answer should be evident, however, I strongly predict that Joyner might come up with an answer that fits his own world view. Lest we forget, the Greeks once imagined the heaven as a large dome of bronze onto which the constellations of stars were fixed. The explanation made sense to the Greeks. However, as we now know, it was erroneous.

I believe that the safeguards system, a fundamental pillar of the world's common security, is worthy of a more dignified and informed debate. I disagreed with some of Ford's statements, also. For instance, there is a legitimate debate on whether Article XII(c) in the agency's statute, which mostly deals with noncompliance in respect to IAEA projects, was properly applied in Iran's case — considering that Article 19 of the CSA, which is both more recent and more specific than the statute,  envisions a slightly different way to deal with non-compliance. In particular, before the agency submits a report to the Security Council, the Board of Governors must "afford the Government of Iran every reasonable opportunity to furnish the Board with any necessary reassurance" on the application of safeguards. This Roundtable could, for instance, have examined whether Iran was given every reasonable opportunity to resolve issues in 2006. We also could have debated the dynamic among the IAEA and the United Nations (both intergovernmental organizations with a relationship agreement) and Iran (a member state of both bodies). These discussions were lost in favor of a quarrel over a rather simple interpretative issue. Matters of common security deserve, indeed demand, more stringent contemplation than this.

The IAEA applies far more standards in Iran than we have had the chance to cover. From a legal perspective, they appear to have been applied correctly. Practically, as far as Iran is concerned, it does not matter that much. Iran is refusing to allow the IAEA to conclude that all material that should be declared has been declared. This is not the time, if ever there was one, to allow passion to flow freely into a legal debate.

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